Most Friday mornings, the house is filled with alarms, water running, crying and grumbling, and a stern voice shouting for children to bath, brush their teeth, have their breakfasts and get ready to leave for school. This Friday morning, however, there was a very different energy, one that you could almost reach out a pat it gently. There was still a voice shouting that children must get ready but, this time, it wasn’t for school but rather to catch a flight to Port Elizabeth and then a drive to South African National Parks‘ Tsitsikamma National Park.
Growing up, we were ‘forced’ to take family trips, which usually involved drives to Swaziland and the Eastern Cape. I say ‘forced’ because, particularly when we were older, family trips usually coincided with major holidays which meant missing Maseru parties, our friends and other mischief. But, like many things, when you become an adult, you start to recognise the importance of time together as a family, especially when you have your own children.
Not counting trips home to Lesotho, I haven’t been able to do family trips with as much regularity as I would like, providing my children with experiences beyond our day-to-day in Joburg. And then the opportunity to visit Tsitsikamma came up and I couldn’t let it pass, in the process discovering things about myself and my family.
The flight was filled with excitement. The stop in Port Elizabeth to pick up a car as well as binoculars, torch and snacks for the road was filled with impatience. The drive itself was beautiful – and, yes, there were the occasional “how much longer till we get there?” questions but the time was passed with ‘what does that cloud look like’, ‘look at all the trees’, etc.
Staying at Storms River Mouth Rest Camp right on the ocean’s edge is humbling. The sound of the waves banging the rocks lulls you to sleep at night and is the first thing you hear as you rub the sleep from your eyes in the morning. There’s an abundance of camping sites, neatly laid out, as well as wood cabins overlooking the sea, forest cabins, cottages and chalets but we spent our weekend there in one of the ‘guest houses’ which is essentially a four-bedroom ‘home away from home’ with lounge, dining room, big kitchen and entertainment area out back.
The Cattle Baron run Tsitsikamma Storm River restaurant, serve great food and has great waiters – you dine looking out over the ocean. The rock dussies are everywhere adding a certain charm to the space – my children wanted to take one home, much to their mother’s horror. They settled for collecting shells and playing on a little beach on the calmer side of the sea.
I have never been much for hiking, to be honest, but the one thing that Tsitsikamma National Park has is an abundance of beautiful hiking trails. I took the 2-kilometre, 20/30 minute Storms River Walk to the 77-metre suspension bridge with my family and spent some time playing on the pebble beach before walking back over two smaller suspension bridges. To be honest, I was a little nervous, especially on the bridges but my children, as children do, strolled across easily and comfortably.
The following day, I did the hike up to the Agulhas lookout point beyond the bridge which has amazing views of the camp as well as the ocean. That took me about 2 hours, there and back, and ignited an interest in hiking I never knew I had. I am definitely going back k to try out the other trails including the 6-kilometre Waterfall Trail and the Otter Trail.
Other activities available are the Spirit of Tsitsikamma boat cruise, scuba diving, kayaking and snorkelling. In the small town, there is also the Canopy Tour, Quad Biking, Mountain Biking and, about 25 kilometres away, is the Bloukrans Bungy, considered the highest commercial bungy jump in the world at 216 metres.
While it was a weekend well spent with family, it is an experience that requires at least 5 days, giving one the time to explore a bit more, without trying to pack too much into a shorter period. There is more than enough to keep you occupied – including just plain chilling – within the National Park but there is also so much more to do when going beyond the borders. We are already planning our next trip there with friends and family.